The End of Oulipo?

The End of Oulipo? My book (co-authored with Lauren Elkin), published by Zero Books. Available everywhere. Order it from Amazon, or find it in bookstores nationwide. The End of Oulipo

Lady Chatterley’s Brother

Lady Chatterley's Brother. The first ebook in the new TQC Long Essays series, Lady Chatterley's Brothercalled “an exciting new project” by Chad Post of Open Letter and Three Percent. Why can't Nicholson Baker write about sex? And why can Javier Marias? We investigate why porn is a dead end, and why seduction paves the way for the sex writing of the future. Read an excerpt.

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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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You Say

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Group Reads

The Tunnel

Fall Read: The Tunnel by William H. Gass

A group read of the book that either "engenders awe and despair" or "[goads] the reader with obscenity and bigotry," or both. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Naked Singularity

Summer Read: A Naked Singularity by Sergio De La Pava

Fans of Gaddis, Pynchon, DeLillo: A group read of the book that went from Xlibris to the University of Chicago Press. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Life Perec

Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec

Starting March 2011, read the greatest novel from an experimental master. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Last Samurai

Fall Read: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt

A group read of one of the '00s most-lauded postmodern novels. Info here. Buy the book here and support this site.

Tale of Genji

The Summer of Genji

Two great online lit magazines team up to read a mammoth court drama, the world's first novel.

Your Face Tomorrow

Your Face This Spring

A 3-month read of Javier Marias' mammoth book Your Face Tomorrow

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Ten Memorable Quotes from William Gaddis’ Letters

New Books
Here are ten of my favorite moments from these hugely interesting letters.


Interviews from Conversational Reading

New Books
See this page for interviews with leading authors, translators, publishers, and more.


  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante September 16, 2014
    Few novelists have captured the rhythms and flow of life with the veracity of Elena Ferrante in her Neapolitan Novels. Following the friendship between Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo from childhood to old age, the tetralogy spans fifty years; over the course of that time, no emotion is too small, too dark, too banal to be recorded. No expense, so to speak, is […]
  • Trieste by Daša Drndić September 15, 2014
    As Drndić reiterates throughout the novel, “Behind every name there is a story.” And Haya Tedeschi’s story is draped in death. Born to a Jewish family that converted to Catholicism and tacitly supported the Fascists in Italy, Haya was a bystander to the Holocaust. She attended movies while Jews and partisans were transported to concentration camps; she pored […]
  • The Tree With No Name by Drago Jančar September 15, 2014
    At the opening of chapter 87—the first chapter found in The Tree with No Name—Janez Lipnik finds himself up a tree, shoeless, and lost in the Slovenian countryside. He makes his way to a house where he is taken in by a woman teacher who is waiting for her lover, a soldier. It becomes clear we are at the height of World War II. Soon after, we follow Lipnik […]
  • Kjell Askildsen, Selected Stories September 15, 2014
    Here, at the midpoint of his narrative, Bernhard, the affectless and purposeless protagonist of "The Unseen," experiences existential near-emancipation at dusk. This retreat toward obscurity in terse, direct language—thematic and stylistic markers of each work in the collection—comes immediately after Bernhard’s sister mentions her plans to enterta […]
  • Berlin Now by Peter Schneider September 15, 2014
    In his new book of essays, Berlin Now, Peter Schneider reveals himself as a gnarled Cold Warrior who has been stricken with many of the maladies common to his generation. With the specter of Communism exorcized, his new enemy is Islam. The book is a collection of short interlocking pieces introducing Anglophone readers to Berlin; it is not being published in […]
  • Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente September 15, 2014
    In 1999, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s debut novel, Paris, was awarded the XVII Premio Herralde de Novela prize. Despite his success, it took fourteen years for Giralt’s work to appear in English, with the story collection The End of Love arriving in 2013. Now, this year sees the publication of two more books by Giralt: Paris, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, a […]
  • 10:04 by Ben Lerner September 15, 2014
    “It seemed that the [New Yorker] story—which was in part the result of my dealing with the reception of my novel—had been much more widely received than the novel itself,” says the narrator of Ben Lerner’s second novel, 10:04. Perhaps this narrator is Lerner himself—at one point he describes 10:04, within its own pages, as “neither fiction nor nonfiction but […]
  • Theories of Forgetting by Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    Lance Olsen’s Theories of Forgetting is a masterful work structured around Robert Smithson’s earthwork “The Spiral Jetty.” Olsen’s novel is comprised of three narrations, written each by a separate member of a family. The husband’s and wife’s texts progress in opposite directions across the book, with each page divided among these two inverted texts; though […]
  • An Interview with Lance Olsen September 15, 2014
    The most substantial may be that innovative fiction knows what it is, that someone like me could define it in any productive way, that innovative fiction might somehow be one thing, or somehow consistent through time and space. None of these is the case. That’s exactly what I find most exciting about writing it, reading it, thinking about it. Innovative fict […]
  • The Ants by Sawako Nakayasu September 15, 2014
    In The Ants, we receive a study of existence through ants. That is, there are ants everywhere, ants substituted in every segment of the landscape, yet their behavior seems to reveal something altogether human. Too human. The ants are crushed and disappointed. They are warm and many. They are involved in gang wars and live inside carrot cake. The unique quali […]

Stupid Praise

Mark Lotto, i.e. the voice of sanity.

Book reviewers, on the other hand, have had no trouble making up their minds about Indecision. The Gray Lady fawned over Kunkel, 32, like a loving grandmother. In the daily New York Times, Michiko Kakutani actually reviewed Indecision from the point of view of Holden Caulfield ("Old Dwight’s book really knocked me out"). That weekend, the Times Book Review published a front-page rave by 1980s wunderkind Jay McInerney–as if the title of Spokesman for a Generation could be handed down like the Miss America crown. Two weeks later, the Book Review published Kunkel’s 4,000-word essay about novelists and terrorists on the same Sunday that the Times Magazine ran an adoring profile of Kunkel and the other founding editors of the literary magazine n+1. Kunkel was identified as "the hot young white male writer of the moment." By favorably comparing Dwight and Holden, n+1 and the Partisan Review, Kunkel and Goethe, Kunkel and Joyce, these Times pieces worked hard to establish the new author’s pedigree, his literary bona fides, like a royal genealogist rubber-stamping the pure bloodlines of a new prince. Each article was accompanied by a photo of Kunkel smiling shyly, or brooding prettily.

"Writers rightly prefer intelligent hostility to stupid praise," daydreams critic James Wood in the current issue of n+1. We are already familiar with the victims of stupid praise. Especially talented, especially lucky or especially well-publicized writers like Jonathan Safran Foer, Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith were cooed over, profiled, proclaimed originals, made stars. Surely, these young authors–all of them, like Kunkel, with talents worth developing–would have benefited more from intelligent and productive hostility than from the advertising campaigns they were given by critics. Predictably, their follow-ups were greeted with idiotic hostility. This cycle of hype and backlash unquestionably fails writers. Faulkner wrote three not-great books before he wrote The Sound and the Fury; these days he’d only have gotten to write the first two. But don’t worry too much about Kunkel. Indecision’s film rights were sold for seven figures to producer Scott Rudin, who’s also working on movie adaptations of The Corrections and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

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  1. One Book Too Many? Errr . . . yeah. Machiko Kakutani’s book review of Indecision by n + 1 founding editor Benjamin Kunkel is extremely strange. If I’m not...
  2. Some of it is just plain stupid I’d say that the Richard Posner article on media in The New York Times is about 50/50. Fifty percent of it says intelligent things that...
  3. In Praise of Big Books A few posts back I wrote about the virtues of short stories. Now I’d like to go in the opposite direction and write a little...
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3 comments to Stupid Praise

  • Grant

    In many if not most cultures the story tellers are the keepers of the narrative, and celebrity has always been part of that, with all of its blessings and pitfalls. Instead of an either/or of unquestioned praise and ‘hostile’ reviews, how about just realistic. Indecision is a fine book, interesting, worth reading; it’s not going to make it into the canon as the peer of the finest Joyce or Lessing. Kunkel may or may not have that book in him–but it would be great if he did.

  • I think Lotto’s review was pretty realistic. He praised the book for what it did well, but found it wanting in the end.
    And I do have to agree that the Times went overboard with their Kunkel coverage.

  • The last time I remember the Times cooing so overtly, the subject was Chaing Rae-Lee and it turned out he’s an occasional golf buddy of Charles McGrath.

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